Being primarily a photographer as well as a reggie logger, with the exception of one or two trips to warmer and sunnier climates, I tend to go into semi hibernation during the cold European winter months. Even on sunny days I don’t have the motivation to stand around in minus temperatures at an airport all day just to get the odd shot here and there. This winter I decided I would treat myself to what would basically be short logging-only trips.
Concluding that I could do with improving my Italian fleets, and noting that GermanWings operated there (from Cologne), I decided the first day trip would be to Milan Malpensa. Booking the flight well in advance I got the roundtrip for 39 Euros, all inclusive. The bad news was that the flight departed CGN (Cologne) at 0700 local. Now, for me, that’s middle of the night! Rather than having to get up at 0330 and drive from home on what could be an icy winter’s night, I elected to stay at the airport Holiday Inn for the night. This allowed me a leisurely early evening drive and, even more importantly, an extra couple of hours in bed! Mind you, even with a pretty good Weekend Special, the hotel still cost double the air fare! This was also to be my first real experience with an European LCC (Low Cost Carrier) – I have used Southwest and JetBlue (still my favourite) in the USA. I had, until now avoided LCCs this side of the pond electing to fly with the big boys instead. However, I decided that on this occasion, as it was only for an hour or so each way, I’d give it a try.
Getting up at five, I arrived at the check-in at 0540. There was no one in front of me and, with hand baggage only, the check-in procedure was completed in an impressive record-breaking 10 seconds. I was the thirteenth passenger to check-in and accordingly received boarding pass number 13. Fortunately for me, I don’t have any hang ups about 13. Nevertheless, I was surprised that the airline actually issued this number. Having left the hotel before breakfast had started, I went to grab a coffee and a couple of croissants at the landside airport cafe. About 45 minutes prior to departure I proceeded through the security checks (again no queues) and made my way to the gate. Just at that moment my aircraft for the flight was being towed in. I passed the remaining time watching the ground staff going about their work. Eventually, a little later than expected, we began the boarding process. GermanWings use the same principal as Southwest, boarding by number blocks. So, first will be those holding boarding passes 1 to 30, then 1 to 60 etc. I headed straight for the window seat on the right hand side in the last row. I chose the right side so that I wouldn’t have the rising Sun in my eyes restricting any views there might be to see on the way. I headed for the back because my experience in the USA is that many passengers tend to fill seats from the front in order to be the first off. Consequently even on relatively full flights you’ll find more empty seats around the back. As it was, with only 66 pax on this flight, we could all spread around. I had the last row to myself. The aircraft was of course previously with Lufthansa and was still fitted with their leather seats. Naturally, the head covers were those of GermanWings. Despite a single class 150 seat layout the seat pitch was quite acceptable, at least for such a relatively short flight. The result of too many years playing soccer, I have a knee which soon begins to complain and hurt like mad if I’m sitting in a confined space for too long. On longer flights seat pitch becomes very important to me.
We pushed back five minutes late at 0705. With runway 14L in use it was only a very short taxi and, number two to a departing Hapag-Lloyd Express B737, we were airborne at 0713. The cabin crew soon came around with the drinks and food trolley. I asked for water and received a ½ liter bottle for Euro 2.50. Well OK, the one-way fare I paid was only Euro 19.50 after all! Initially, flying on top of cloud, there wasn’t much to see. I have been flying for 47 years and have completed more than 1550 flights, but I still enjoy a window seat. As we approached the Alps the weather cleared and I experienced some incredible views. Crossing over the mountains we experienced some occasional moderate turbulence. Soon we began our descent and were vectored for an extended left hand pattern for the ILS to runway 35R at MXP. Touchdown was at 0816 followed by heavy breaking to make an early exit off the runway. We blocked on at 0822 parking on a remote stand requiring a bus ride to the terminal.
After a long successful day at Malpensa it was time to make the return to CGN. Wanting to obtain an early boarding opportunity I approached the check-in desks with more than two hours to go before departure. Nothing was opened for GermanWings yet so I just waited leaning back on one of the many empty desks. Eventually, two hours prior (as advertised) the check-in staff arrived and by sheer coincidence set up shop at two desks which included the one I was leaning on! So, thinking I’d get boarding pass 1, I was a little disappointed to discover that the handling agency in Milan did not use this procedure. Only a normal type of pass was issued indicating “free seating”. The reason for this is most probably because the pax have to be bussed to the aircraft. So, make sure you get to the bus gate about 25 minutes prior to boarding and stand close to the doors at the rear of the bus. Being on a remote stand, boarding is through the front and rear doors of the aircraft. Once the bus doors open it’s a free for all. The weak will end up flat on their faces on the tarmac with foot marks all over their backs! I headed for the rear steps and was about number 10 to board. On entering the aircraft no one had claimed the rear rows again. I took my customary window seat, on the left side this time so that I could see the airport as we lifted off. We had a somewhat heavier load of 118 this flight but the seat next to mine remained empty. We blocked off crack on schedule at 2035 and taxied to 35R for departure. I’d expected 35L which is the preferred runway for take offs. However, when busy – and it was – both will be used. We lined up behind a landing Regional/Air France Express EMB145 and as soon as it had cleared we were on our way getting airborne at 2043. A little distant from the main terminal, I did get a good view of the old Terminal which is still used by the charter companies. We made what I can only describe as a shallow zigzagging initial departure before finally setting course towards the west side of Zurich. Again the trolley came around and I pigged out on an appetizing bacon & tomato sandwich, washed down by an excellent 2004 can of coke – all for 5 Euros. Once over the mountains, we experienced the customary pockets of turbulence for a short while. With extensive cloud cover and nothing to look at (it was dark anyway), I read my book. Just prior to commencing our descent the F/O came on to inform us that CGN was wet and windy. Despite the wind and the low cloud base, the approach wasn’t too bumpy and we touched down on a very wet runway 32R at 2149, reaching the gate 5 minutes later: 11 minutes ahead of schedule. All in all an excellent day and a good experience on GermanWings. One final comment which endeared me to them and I forgot to mention is that they allow a generous 8kg carry-on allowance.
The most dangerous part of the day was about to begin: the drive home on very wet and slippery German autobahns in driving rain!
TriStar500 From Germany, joined Nov 1999, 4702 posts, RR: 41
Reply 1, posted (11 years 4 months 1 week 2 days 20 hours ago) and read 2920 times:
Thank you for an interesting and well to read report about one of Germanwings' routes, which wasn't covered in this forum before.
It was also interesting for me to read about your trip, because I wanted to take the very same one (for the very same reasons) late last December - unfortunately I had to cancel the flights at the very last minute. At least your detailed narration gives me an impression of what I have missed.
Homer: Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!
Zoomer From Netherlands, joined Dec 2000, 218 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (11 years 4 months 1 week 2 days 6 hours ago) and read 2844 times:
Well, Alitalia going on strike from 1000 until 1800 didn't help matters, but then again most of their heavies operated. I was really after the charter stuff. At a rough guess (haven't updated yet) I made about 40. Probably do a Nice next.